Dexy’s: Nowhere is Home – Kevin Rowland and Jim Paterson in depth interview

 

Dexy’s: Nowhere is Home - Kevin Rowland and Jim Paterson in depth interview | Louder Than War

 

Dexy’s: Kevin Rowland and Jim Paterson
interviewed 
by Fergal Kinney

‘Nowhere is Home’ is the critically acclaimed new film about the seminal British band Dexy’s, focusing on their 2013 West End shows performing their new album in full. Louder Than War sent Fergal Kinney to speak to Kevin Rowland and Jim Paterson to find out more.

 

IN early 2013, the newly reformed Dexy’s – formerly Dexy’s Midnight Runners – sold out a nine night run at the Duke of York’s Theatre in the West End of London, performing their critically praised 2012 album ‘One Day I’m Going to Soar’ in its entirety followed by a selection of cuts from previous Dexy’s incarnations. BAFTA winning filmmakers Kieran Evans and Paul Kelly made a film about Dexy’s centred on the Duke of York’s shows; ‘Nowhere is Home’. Beautifully shot and brimming with passion, conviction and even a little humour, ‘Nowhere is Home’ is one of this year’s very finest music films, showcasing a band at the peak of their powers and wholly challenging the expectations of a band reforming later in their career. There is no archive footage, no hackneyed talking heads, only the concert itself interspersed with Dexy’s Kevin Rowland and Jim Paterson interview. In a club on Dean Street in Soho, just streets away from the Duke of York’s Theatre itself – streets captured brilliantly by Evans and Kelly in ‘Nowhere is Home’ – I meet with Kevin Rowland and Jim Paterson to discuss the film and the various highs, lows and false starts that have typified the thirty-five years since their debut album.

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       LTW: You talk in the film about how important retaining creative control over your work has always been to you – was it a challenge handing over the reigns with the film to directors Kieran Evans and Paul Kelly?

KR: It certainly was, it really was. I didn’t know them…I didn’t know anything about them, I didn’t know anything about their history.

They’d done the films with St Etienne, the London Trilogy…

KR: I’d heard about that, yes. But, you know, I didn’t check that out, and I’m kind of naturally a little untrusting. I was actually saying to them “Look, it’s a really weird situation for me, you’re working on something, I haven’t got control on it, and it’s got the Dexy’s name on it, and I haven’t got control over it, and that’s a very odd situation for me”. They kept going “Don’t worry, it’s ok”, and I just said “don’t fucking play to the lowest common denominator”. And I didn’t know that they were fans of Dexy’s until I read one of their interviews where they said that they felt this big responsibility not to fuck it up because they know all about Dexy’s and they loved Dexy’s, and they didn’t want to be the ones to fuck it up. I didn’t know that, I had no idea. It was a little bit weird, I was asking what they were going to do with it, are you going to have people talking about us? And they said nah, that’s not our idea. And I just said look, get on with it. And if it’s something I hate, it can’t go out. Just know that. I’m happy to be involved. And they showed me a rough tape, and we did quite a bit of editing, not a lot, but they had the vision, that’s what I realised. And I saw it. They’ve got the vision and I saw it, it’s their thing. It’s not a Dexy’s film; it’s a film about Dexy’s. But they did a good job, they’ve got it, they fucking got it.

I really agree with that, it’s good that the film doesn’t have archive footage and focuses quite exclusively on Dexy’s as of 2012, 2013, 2014…

KR: Yeah, and that’s what I was worried about! That they were going to do all that, but they didn’t though.

It’s not trading on your heritage, look at the Stone Roses film where a good chunk of it is solely archive footage…

JP: The Spandau one as well!

KR: It’s just the opposite, all those bands who come back and do what they do, good luck to them, but it’s about the now for us. We’re really on it, we’re in a seam of creativity, so I don’t want to keep looking back.

The easy thing, if not the done thing, would have been to do a ‘classic album’ in full, you’d probably have two choices with that too…

KR: Two choices?

Well, ‘Searching for the Young Soul Rebels’ and ‘Don’t Stand Me Down’…

KR: Yeah, OK.

…what led to you deciding to come back and perform the new album from start to finish? It’s quite a bold move

KR: It just happened really. We’d finished the album and we were really happy with it, we knew we’d done something good. And the manager at the time, he’s a great guy – called Tim Vigon – fantastic, he just did it as a labour of love for about 7 or 8 years, he never got paid for it, he was a Dexy’s fan when he was 13. When we did those shows in 2003…

There’s a DVD of that which is quite different to ‘Nowhere is Home’…

KR: Fucking terrible. We were supposed to mix that…

It came out with artwork with you from ‘Too-Rye-Aye’ on it…

KR: Well that’s what they are; rip off people, horrible people. We needed their advance to make the books balance from the tour, I didn’t like them from the star, I said I’d go up to Manchester – they were a Manchester company – to help them mix it, but next thing I knew it was in the shops. And that’s one of the reasons I was so nervous (about ‘Nowhere is Home’). So Tim Vigon came round my flat and we were talking about the shows, and he said why don’t you do the new album? And I just thought, people don’t want to hear that. But he said “look, Dexy’s haven’t done an album in 26 years, you’re not playing massive venues” the album wasn’t even out, and he said “honestly, trust me it will work”. And once we got into that idea we started developing the narrative visually.

Again you mention in the film how you have to avoid compromise on a weekly basis, is other people’s perceptions of Dexy’s, or Dexy’s Midnight Runners, something you have to fight against?

KR: All the time, and that’s exactly what it is – other people’s perceptions. I get people coming up to me, and to be honest now most people who come up to me are talking about the new album, the best one ever was a guy, probably about your age, coming up and saying “the new album’s great, obviously I’m too young to have heard the old stuff”. And that’s a real compliment. You do get people who have their memories, “oh I remember listening to Geno”, and I don’t really want to be thinking about that.

Because it feels quite different to where you are now?

KR: It does now. You know what gave me confidence, I met Trevor Sorbie, the hairdresser, I was a hairdresser before I was in music so he was a bit of a hero of mine. He invented the wedge haircut, and that’s a serious haircut, it changed things, it really changed things. And when I was cutting hair it was a joy to cut. A little work of art. So I met him a few months ago and I said “ah, the man who invented the wedge”, and he went straight away “yeah but I’m in the present now”. And I went “thank you, you’ve given me permission to keep doing that”. You feel bad, you feel guilty because it’s other people’s emotions and other people’s memories, but what are you going to do? Be a slave to the past and other people’s memories?

JP: I think the best thing we can do is try and be true to ourselves and honour ourselves

One thing I found interesting, listening to the album is that chunks of it are written from a female perspective – was it a challenge to write in a female voice?

KR: Well…I could remember sort of phrases, you know what I mean? “I was a fucking challenge for you”, that sort of thing… ‘Incapable of Love’ I wrote that at the end of a relationship, and then I put the woman’s voice in later, it wasn’t hard to do that, “stop that, get honest, you never fucking tried”…you don’t forget, you know, you don’t forget when you’ve been told stuff like that. It wasn’t hard. But Maddie (Madeleine Hyland, Dexy’s), though, she’s such a fucking good actress. We did a lot of work on that, before we even got near the band, just me and her singing over the demo’s, and she just got so into it, felt it every time, what she does on stage now, every night she cries her eyes out. Every fucking night. Genuine tears.

JP: I’ll follow her backstage, and I can’t go near her, she’s still crying backstage, if I go up and say “are you alright?”, she’s still doing it, she’s coming down off the moment

Yeah, that’s the commitment you want in Dexy’s…

KR: Without going on about it, I looked for about four years to find her. Honestly, honestly, even before I moved to London. In 2006 I did some demo’s, a guy called Nino – RIP – he was a pal and was going to be involved in the production. And we just said we’ve got to get the right one. I don’t know if you know the story about Scarlet O’Hara in Gone With the Wind, it was a big thing, the search for Scarlet O’Hara…it felt like that, I went round loads of clubs, all the vintage scene, some of them could sing right but…I don’t know, it was the last one, we had two songs left, the studio was already booked, I don’t know why but I knew I was going to find the right person. Tim Vigon, the manager, went “have you got anybody?” and I went “no”. I just knew. And she came. Even on the sound check, we’ll do “I’m Always Going to Love You”, and she’ll do the whole thing in tears even in the fucking soundcheck. And she came round, we did those songs and she’d be crying, and I could see her expression and I changed the lyrics…I could see from her expressions that she wasn’t believing me, do you know what I mean? So I wrote that into it.

You said you’d been looking for four years, that implies that these songs had been knocking around for quite a while before you came to do the album, how long had the tracks that would make up ‘One Day I’m Going to Soar’ existed?

KR: Some of them, 15 or 20 years ago? It was called ‘People Who Just Don’t Know Their Place’…and yeah, about 2004 I changed it to ‘Incapable of Love’

JP: ‘Wiggle’?

KR: ‘Wiggle’ was written ages ago…

JP: 94-95?

KR: Right

How did it take so long to get these ideas of songs to the point of recording an album? Obviously you did ‘My Beauty’ in between but…

KR: I don’t know. I got into a place where I thought I didn’t want to do music. And you were the same?

JP: Yeah. I thought I didn’t want to be in music, I didn’t want to be in music, but music is always going to be in my life. I’d sit at home on a keyboard all day, I might record a song, I might not, I didn’t care really. Just to keep myself off the streets. But nah, I wasn’t bothered.

KR: I was the same really, I went through phases like that. I really don’t know why it took so long, it didn’t seem to work. I think deep down, subconsciously, I didn’t thin we were really capable of doing anything good enough because I’d get in the studio a couple of times with some people and think nah, it didn’t work out. But deep down I probably knew that we weren’t really ready.

The film ends with a fascinating line about you being asked in a club in the ‘80s, “why didn’t you just…do it?”. Do you ever regret that perhaps the confrontational nature of Dexy’s got in the way of the real achievements you were making on record?

KR: I don’t know because it’s so long ago and I don’t really care, but, there was a time when I looked back and thought “what was all that about?”. All we had to do was put records out and do shows, my life, everyone’s life would have been so much easier. We were always fucking battling with people.

Taking out full page ad’s in the music press…

KR: (Laughs) That’s a good way to make friends in the music press!

I couldn’t even imagine that now…

KR: We were just, you know, I must admit it was exciting doing all that stuff. It was always a prank, we were trying to make it exciting for ourselves all the time, but it would have been good if we were more confident to just let the music speak for itself really. Bands used to look at us and they’d look at you like you were fucking mad.

When the big global success did come, how did that feel? Suddenly those kind of pranks, that kind of behaviour, it isn’t really compatible with the kind of success you had with ‘Too-Rye-Aye’

JP: I’d left, and everything was onto Kevin, all the pressure was on Kevin

KR: I really enjoyed it for the first few weeks, the feeling of vindication, it was a buzz. That was nice for a few weeks. Then, it just became a pressure you know. At the same time I didn’t really want it to stop, initially. And I tell you what it was, all of the sudden there was loads of people around us and they were all relying on us, all of the sudden there’s loads of roadies, loads of this and loads of that, a whole big band. And I didn’t know if people were being real with me…

Because they had their own interests at stake?

KR: They might have done, they might have done, I don’t know really. I knew money was being taken control of really, I didn’t confront it, I didn’t confront it at all. I found it all incredibly stressful. Just the demands of going to America, I wanted to be successful in America but other hand I didn’t want to be doing interviews all day and then do a show, I’m the kind of guy who just can’t do that. I know that I can’t do that, even now, I’ll never do an interview on the day of a show unless it’s a, you know, five minute thing. And to be honest, Jim had left, that was a big factor. The irony was that it was the most successful Dexy’s had been, and it didn’t feel like Dexy’s. ’81, that was the high point, and ’80 was good, but ’81 was really good, the Projected Passion shows, we were really on it. We nearly got dropped just before ‘Come On Eileen’, then all of the sudden we’re massively successful, but Jim’s gone. And it didn’t feel right.

A lot of people would associate Dexy’s with an obvious soul influence, but they might be more surprised by the influence of art-rock bands like Roxy Music and Deaf School…

KR: That perception comes around because we got our success straight after punk. It was all very literal, people were only open to literal things. How did that influence us? Bryan Ferry had a distinct vocal style in Roxy Music, early Roxy Music, and I was very conscious of that…I was even a little bit concerned that the sound…one of the reasons I wanted brass was Andy Mackay. We always went for quite a middle-y sound

JP: The trumpet is at the top end but you’ve got the trombone at the bottom end…

KR:..and the way Roxy Music blended the synths with the tenor sax, it was very middle-y as well really. And I always felt, you know…

JP: A lot of those early synthesiser sounds sound a lot like brass…

On tracks like ‘Do the Strand’ the way the sax comes at you is very similar to on a Dexy’s record…

KR: It is, it is. And the theatricality of it…

It is a theatrical presentation – within pop there’s always been the school of thought that finds any effort at image quite inauthentic, and then the school of thought that is authentic yet very comfortable with presentation being a priority, you know not just turning up in a pair of jeans and plugging in, is that something that still matters to you?

KR: That’s one of the things we got from Roxy. Those first few albums, the first three, that man was yearning, when you listen to ‘If There is Something’ on the first record he’s singing his heart out. Look at soul music, those guys looked great with their suits, they always looked great, so where did this thing come from? This middle class thing, you must dress down. Even our first images, they were very stylised…

JP: If you’re dressed up really nicely and you get an idea in your head suddenly does that mean it’s not good because you’re dressed up?

KR: There was that awful programme on the other week (‘Oh! You Pretty Things’ on BBC4) that I wish we didn’t take part in.

I thought that was quite good, it at least showed what you were doing now…

KR: Did it? I didn’t get that far. They took it all completely literally, like the first look was because we were working class or men of the people…

JP: Maggie Thatcher was not even in my thoughts, I wasn’t interested in politics

KR: It was a stylised look, it was about pea coats, sometimes we did wear donkey jackets but it was very cool, a very New York smokey kind of look, very studied. And then the second look, ’82, that was a combination of loads of things and they said it was fiercely working class – it wasn’t. It’s as though they were saying we were wearing that because we couldn’t afford anything else.

Throughout Dexy’s, from even your first single ‘Dance Stance’, you were writing about Ireland, and on ‘Don’t Stand Me Down’ at least three tracks are explicitly about your views on Irish politics at the time, how did you begin to write about those kind of issues?

KR: Well I think ‘Don’t Stand Me Down’, after we got back from all the touring, ‘Too-Rye-Aye’ and all that, I just didn’t see the meaning in what I was doing. I was supposed to be a pop singer, and I felt it was all lightweight and I just wanted to find something with meaning, so I started looking in Irish politics and in other places. I always had a feeling for that anyway, but I started to read up on things, go on demonstrations, find out about it, talk to people…

Something that perhaps isn’t nourished in quite a superficial pop music world…

KR: Yeah, and I also wanted to make music that actually had some weight to it, some meaning…

Did you get any criticism for that? To talk about Irish politics even now is very difficult…

KR: Yes. We did, we did get criticism. Yeah. “Why are you talking about Ireland? You weren’t born there, you’re born here”. That sort of thing. “IRA supporters”. If you had any view that was contrary to the British thing you were…you know, an IRA supporter. If you thought that British soldiers were doing in any way any wrong sort of thing then you were IRA supporters. You were suspect.

That’s one album of yours that has been pilloried and, thank God, re-appraised, but in 1999 you released ‘My Beauty’ – an incredibly brave and highly personal album of covers. Were you prepared for the extent that music journalists would use the album artwork to degrade the actual content of the album? It’s been quite misrepresented over the years…

KR: Yeah, and I can’t say that I was prepared for that. It was a shock. The vitriol was hurtful. And I must admit it did get to me. A friend of mine was a psychotherapist, a very highly qualified psychotherapist, and he said that there’s no doubt that it had hit a nerve in them, in those people, they’ve got something weird that they’re thinking about in their sexuality, that’s fucked up.

I think it said a lot more about the conservatism that exists in music journalism than it did yourself

KR: I couldn’t believe it! These are people that are supposed to be left wing. I couldn’t believe it.

I mean it’s hardly the most shocking thing in the world…

KR: It’s really not. Equally, ‘Don’t Stand Me Down’, the look on that got such a response…as much as the dress thing…it was just suits, American, Ivy League, and suits at the time felt like a really big statement. Not because of what it was representing but against a background of everything else that was going on it felt right and it felt good.

How do you feel about ‘My Beauty’ looking back on it?

KR: You know what, lately, I did listen to a few tracks. I don’t know why. I listened to ‘the Greatest Love of All’, you know that female vocal line? I wish we’d had that louder. That was from ‘Once Upon a Time in America’, you know Ennio Morricone?

Yes of course, ‘A Fistful of Dollars’ and…

KR: Yes and well later he did, beautiful work like…

JP: Deborah’s Theme…

KR: Well he came up with this idea of having a woman’s soprano voice really high, singing what the strings would normally doing. Beautiful. We did that and I wish it was louder. ‘Reflections of My Life’ too.

‘Labelled With Love’ as well I think…

KR: Really? I’m not sure about some of the lyric changes I did there, looking back. But yeah, I’m proud of it. We got inside of all of them songs

None of them are lazy covers whatsoever…

KR: We got right in there.

In Alan McGee’s autobiography he gives the indication that he saved you…

KR: So annoying. He was…how can I put this? There was a perception at the time – that he put out really – that he was almost feeling sorry for me. That he picked me out the gutter. But we got signed for a new Dexy’s album, and I said that I want to do this solo thing first. So, I showed him the picture that would become the cover for the album, I hadn’t shown anybody, just me and the photographer. And he just went “fucking hell, this is great, this is fucking amazing, this puts us in Radio 1 territory”. He thought it was great, but it went wrong, and when it went wrong I was on my own.

What did go wrong?

KR: The press. Being ridiculed. That’s what went on. But look, Warner Brothers wanted to sign us, Rough Trade wanted to, we just chose Creation. I’d stopped using a few years by then, like you said, and it was very disappointing. We’d made a good record though.

The look that Dexy’s have got now, it’s very different to for example someone in their 50’s dressing like their skinhead/Suedehead youth, what kind of influences are you taking in with clothing?

JP: Charity shops, I get most of mine from charity shops, £15 I got this for last week (jacket)

KR: £15? Wow

JP: It just comes from the 30’s, 40’s, 50’s…

KR: Well, inspired by…we get stuff made sometimes, I got this shirt copied from an old original, we get them everywhere. And you know what, there’s been lots of periods in my life where I’ve been wearing 40’s and 50’s clothes, even ’75, ’76, before punk, that’s what was going on.

JP: I wasn’t ever really into clothes that much…that’s a lie, I always wanted to look good, but now clothing really is important to me, it’s fun, going into shops, trying things on, they make you feel good, they really do make you feel good. I think about what I’m going to wear the night before, and ten years ago I wouldn’t have done that.

KR: Do you know what, when I look back on my life, the times I’ve been most happy is when I’ve had a good look going on, I haven’t always had a good look going on, that doesn’t mean that a good look makes you happy, it’s a reflection of your inner, your outer is a reflection of your inner, when you feel alright within yourself you kind of want to express that. If you’re that kind of person, not everybody is, but if you aren’t that kind of person don’t criticise those who are, because they don’t fucking get it.

Finally, listening to One Day I’m Going to Soar it’s obvious that it takes a lot more to put it together than a lot of albums, do you see the possibility of another Dexy’s album?

JP: We do, I see…I can see, us wanting to carry on doing this. We want to bring this show to Europe and America.

KR: We’d have been everywhere, we’d go all over Europe, there’s a possibility of that which really I’d like to do. The show that we’ve got now, it took us a long time to get there and we wont be able to just pull it back together any time, so if we’re going to do it it’s going to have to be pretty soon. Once we down tools and stop doing it, there’s a tremendous amount of work there. Who can say? It took 26 years to make this, there were long periods were nothing seemed to be working, now it does work, we are in a rich vein at the moment, it could end again, I’m not in control of it…

You’re not in control of it?

KR: No, I don’t think I am. You see, inspiration, you don’t know where it comes from, we have got some inspiration already, some ideas, whether that will work…you don’t want to do something half baked.

 

All words and interview by Fergal Kinney.

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‘Nowhere is Home’ is out NOW on:

2 disc DVD: ‘Nowhere is Home’ and the full Duke of York’s Theatre concert

6 disc box set: ‘Nowhere is Home, the full Duke of York’s Theatre concert, promotional videos, rare live tracks, radio mixes, a two disc live album of ‘Nowhere is Home’ and a newly remastered ‘One Day I’m Going to Soar’.

2 disc CD: A live album of the full Duke of York’s Theatre concert

Triple heavyweight vinyl: A live album of the full Duke of York’s Theatre concert

For more information: dexysonline.com.

Dexy’s: Nowhere is Home - Kevin Rowland and Jim Paterson in depth interview | Louder Than War

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  1. It’s Dexys not Dexy’s. If you’re going to write a band at least get the name correct.

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